Aaaahh, June in Montreal. The time when you can’t walk around any part of the city without running into a local show or even a full-blown festival. There’s so much going on, we can’t possibly whittle it down to just a few listings, but that’s exactly what we’ve done, so let’s get started:

Folk Fest on the Canal

There are three things that make this festival stand out:

  1. It’s called the Folk Fest and the lineup is largely, wait for it…folk music. Sure, there are some acts that verge into somewhat less folky territory, like this year’s indie rock headliners Plants and Animals, but there is always a clear line back to folk. In a town where the (anything but) Jazz Fest reigns, it’s a refreshing change.
  2. It’s community-oriented and clean. It takes place entirely in the Sud Ouest Borough and mostly along the banks of the Lachine Canal. Also, the port-o-johns are spotless and so are the festival grounds. Like Osheaga but with people picking up after themselves.
  3. It’s Free! While donations are encouraged and there is a VIP area this year you can buy into, access to the festival and its three stages is free.

You have three options to head on down to the Canal and catch some tunes in the great outdoors. It’s a folk-ing great time!


Montreal Folk Fest runs June 15, 16 and 17. For complete schedule visit

Naghmeh and the Southern Shores

We’ve mentioned Naghmeh and the Southern Shores in this column before, but you can never get enough of this local band’s blend of Persian melodies with rock and folk and notably interesting lyrics. They’re playing again tonight, this time at Grumpy’s, so check them out in a very intimate though always rocking space.

Naghmeh and the Southern Shores perform at Grumpy’s, 1242 Bishop, Friday, June 15, 10pm. FREE

Queer Songbook Orchestra

On Tuesday, the Queer Songbook Orchestra will take the audience at Sala Rossa on a musical journey through the last century of uplifting queer narratives in popular music. It’s their mission to celebrate and perform obscured LGBTQ2S historical narratives, as well as tell the personal stories of members of the community and the songs connected to them.

Guest vocalists Safia Nolin and Beverly Glenn Copeland as well as storytellers Louis Negin and Gabe Maharjan will join the Toronto-based 12-piece chamber pop ensemble on stage. This event is part of the Suomi Per Il Popolo Festival.

Queer Songbook Orchestra perfrorm with Darren Creech as part of Suoni per il Popolo at Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent, Tuesday, June 19, 8pm. Tickets are $10 and available through

Dennis Ellsworth

PEI native Dennis Ellsworth has been making music for over 20 years. He describes his sound over those decades as “dark, smooth, romantic alt-country-ish type songs” but he felt like he needed a change with his latest album, the aptly titled Things Change, produced by Joel Plaskett of The Emergency.

Here’s some of his latest sound:

Dennis Ellsworth performs with Esther Hazy and The Pangs at Barfly, 4062A St-Laurent, Tuesday, June 19, 9pm. $10 at the door

* Featured image via Queer Songbook Orchestra

* Know a band or an artist that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe a show FTB should cover, too? Let us know at Our week goes from Thursday to Wednesday, so let us know by the preceding Sunday, though not too much in advance, or you may get lost in the shuffle. We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!

This week Montreal plays host to the Folk Fest which, in my humble opinion, is the festival this summer that does the best job of combining music and sitting outside on the grass. The peanut butter and jelly of outdoor fests. FTB has already reviewed the fest as a whole last year, so in this post we will be highlighting five performances to look out for.

The main location for the fest is right on the canal, it’s a whole lot more than just music, it’s family friendly, they sell beer, the weather is supposed to be amazing and it’s free! I just planned your whole weekend for you, you’re welcome.

Street Meat

What better way to kick the folking weekend off right then to head down to the canal right at 5pm on Friday and check out Street Meat on the Main Stage. This local trio combines a gypsy-jazz style of music with a busker-punk rock attitude, which should lend a bit of clarity to their band name.

While the band’s roots might be in playing street corners and metro stations, it’s nice to see them get the recognition they deserve (and an actual stage)!

Street Meat play Folk Fest Main Stage, Centennial Esplanade (St. Patrick and Pitt), Friday, June 17th, 5:00 pm, free.

A Long, Strange Trip : Songs of the Grateful Dead

While the majority of the festival takes place outdoors on the canal there are a number of showcase events taking place in concert venues in the evenings. One such show is taking place on Friday where a whole host of artists will be paying tribute to the Grateful Dead.

So far the announced lineup includes Joe Grass, Andrew Barr, Brad Barr, Steve Hill, Katie Moore, Li’l Andy, Peter Mika, Colin Perry, Notre Dame de Grass as well as my favorite act “and many more” who seem to show up at every single big gala event I’ve ever heard of.

Tribute to The Grateful Dead plays Théâtre Paradoxe, 5959 Monk, Friday, June 17th, 9:00 pm (Doors at 8:30), $35, tickets available through Théâtre Paradoxe box office.

Sharon and Bram

With Folk Fest being very much an event for the whole family what better act to have on Saturday afternoon than music legends Sharon and Bram. Starting back in 1978 with folk based children’s songs this Juno award winning…. wait what am I doing, if you don’t know who they are then I’m sorry I can’t help you this column isn’t long enough to write their bio let alone explain the significance their songs hold to many Canadians.

Here’s the super short version: skinnamarink. Old or young everyone will be singing along in the sun and for those without children let me just say that this is a show for children “of all ages.”

Sharon and Bram play Folk Fest Main Stage, Centennial Esplanade (St. Patrick and Pitt), Saturday, June 18th, 3:00 pm, free.

Bloodshot Bill

One of the best aspects of the outdoor performances at Centennial Esplanade is that for most of the day you have three different stages to choose from. While the Main Stage might be the big draw, some of the performances on the Montreal and Emerging Artist Stage or Lhasa de Sela Youth Stage are not to be missed.

One such example is local rockabilly one-man-band Bloodshot Bill who will be headlining the Montreal stage on Saturday night. Bloodshot’s music lends itself to getting up and dancing, so the fest did the right thing and put him on as the sun will be starting to go down. What a great way to keep the party going into the evening.

Bloodshot Bill plays Folk Fest Montreal and Emerging Artist Stage, Centennial Esplanade (St. Patrick and Pitt), Saturday, June 18th, 7:30 pm, free.

Lizzy Hoyt

If you’re at the fest on Sunday afternoon I highly recommend you check out Lizzy Hoyt. Fans of traditional music will be very delighted by this singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s combination of folk and celtic music with rich lyrics usually centered on historical themes.

Lizzy plays the violin, guitar and harp has released four albums, won numerous awards and will be playing for free on what is supposed to be one of the most beautifully warm days of the year. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

Lizzy Hoyt plays Folk Fest Main Stage, Centennial Esplanade (St. Patrick and Pitt), Sunday, June 19th, 5:00 pm, free.

Check out the full schedule at

Know a band or an artist that should be featured in Shows This Week? Maybe a show FTB should cover, too? Let us know at We can’t be everywhere and can’t write about everything, but we do our best!

Panelists Samantha Gold and Enzo Sabbagha discuss Jian Ghomeshi’s  second trial, the latest bathroom laws in the US and the Montreal festival season at its start. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha


Samantha Gold FTB Legal Columnist

Enzo Sabbagha: Musician, Podcast Production Assistant

* Ghomeshi and Bathroom Law Reports by Hannah Besseau

*Festivals Report by Enzo Sabbagha

* CLARIFICATION: The Peace Bond Ghomeshi signed doesn’t preclude other victims pressing charges. It only applies to Kathryn Borel.

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

This past Saturday afternoon, I caught the outdoor lineup of Montreal’s 8th Annual Folk Fest on the Lachine Canal. I only knew two things going in: I was going to enjoy a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon listening to music by the water and I had a great pun to use in the title of my review.

Something I should have realized, but didn’t, was that I would be hearing quite a bit of folk music. This year our Jazz Fest features the likes of Ghostface Killah and Huey Lewis and the News, both great artists, but not exactly Jazz musicians. Meanwhile, just down the road, the Ottawa’s Blues plans to host Iggy Azalea, Keith Urban and Weird Al Yankovic among others. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to seeing the Weird One play Just for Laughs, but he’s not a blues artist, I don’t even think he has parodied one in 30 years.

A Folk Music Festival Featuring Folk Music?

Folk Fest (16)
Michael Hurley

Imagine my pleasant surprise hearing folk music at something called the Folk Fest. No, it wasn’t all traditional folk, but there definitely was quite a bit of that. The rest had at the very least a strong folk sensibility.

The first two acts I caught on the big stage (the outdoor venue had three stages) were clearly in the pure folk column. Sin and Swoon, a Montreal-based duo, sang of not standing by your man and tunes inspired by their own stories from the road. True musical storytellers.

They were followed by folk legend Michael Hurley whose lyrics were political commentary for the most part. A veteran troubadour through and through.

Folk Fest (28)
All-Day Breakfast String Band

On the second stage, with the canal and St-Henri as a backdrop, I caught the All-Day Breakfast String Band. Actually, I believe this is the second time I have seen them play their blend of highly fun and danceable Appalachian Folk Country. The first was during PorchFest NDG when they were backing up Stephanie Flowers.

Andy & Ariana: Quirky Scotian Piaf

One act that really caught my attention was the duo of Andy & Ariana. Originally from Nova Scotia, they have been touring their unique musical blend for quite some time. When I say unique, I mean a mix of original songs, one about their furnace, one a dirge about having a good time staying up and waking up late coupled with a slew of Édith Piaf covers. They had an original album for sale as well as a Piaf cover album.

Whether it was original or Piaf, Andy played guitar and made some a propos noises and faces while Ariana really belted it out, occasionally with an instrument in hand as well. At one point she mused that the crowd seemed to be into the performance because this was Montreal and we know French greats like Piaf. Well, that may be the case, but I think the very positive audience response had more to do with Ariana’s incredible voice and the way it fit into the performance.

Folk Fest (42)
Andy & Ariana

No, this wasn’t what I would call folk per-se, but it definitely fit the mood of the event and they were true storytellers, which is what folk artists should be.

Folk-ing Clean Washrooms and Folk-ing Smart Organization

The only time you ever mention the washrooms in a festival review is if they are an abomination and a distraction from the rest of the event. With Folk Fest, it was the opposite. The Port-o-Johns here were impeccable and there weren’t massive lineups. There was even a soap-water pumping station nearby.

Now I’ll admit that this wasn’t a get hammered and high sort of event, it was a family-friendly community festival, so that may have had something to do with it. But still, this was impressive.

In fact, the whole organization was quite impressive. They sold beer, wine and sangria for affordable prices and people were on the honour system not to bring in their own. A truly self-policed community event.

You also had to buy a glass to drink your alcohol in for $2. Rather, you rented the glass, because if you returned it, you got your $2 back. I decided to keep mine:

Folk Fest (47)

A nice momento of a fun time by the canal.

This was the only Folk Fest event I took in this year, but the festival actually featured free outdoor shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday, big concerts at the Corona Theatre by Bruce Cockburn and others as well as shows at Bar de Courcelle. All in the southwest community, either right on or near the canal.

I’ll be sure to check out more of it next year. For now, I can say that a folk-ing good time was had by all.

* photos by Jason C. McLean

Montreal Folk festival

Montreal Folk festival

As the sounds of pots and pans ring out every evening around Montreal, I can’t help but think about the roots of folk music. To folk’s inextricable connection to the people who produce it, to the social movements it inspires and reflects. The wooden spoons bandied about on our streets remind me of my grandfather, who played the spoons and sang folk songs at all our family gatherings. Next week, the Festival Folk on The Canal will be taking over the Ilot Charlevoix and I can barely wait.

Sarah Jane Scouten
Sarah Jane Scouten

The Fest begins on Thursday June 14th with folk legend Peter Yarrow from Peter Paul and Mary. Yarrow is playing with special guest Sarah Jane Scouten who has been making waves around Montreal recently getting an honourable mention in The Mirror’s Best of Montreal poll 2012. Then on Friday, June 15th, Jim Kweskin and the Ever Lovin’ Jug Band will be performing with special guest Daniel Isaiah.

On the weekend will be the meat of the Fest, the hardy platter of tunes, and it’s free! Pardon my french, but how fucking awesome is that! We’ve got l’Arrondisement Sud-Ouest, The Georges Vanier Cultural Center, and St-Ambroise brewery to thank for this amazing chance to check out new and beloved folk acts.

On Saturday June 16th, there will be a unique opportunity for a family friendly urban camping experience. Last summer when I volunteered for the Fest, I heard many a positive comment from urban camping attendees. Thus, this year, I am resolute. I am not missing out. I’ve got a surefire plan: I am going to bring out my tent, refine my ghost stories, and round up some friends to camp by the Lachine Canal.

For Saturday’s line up, I am most excited for Plants and Animals and Notre Dame de Grass. I’m new to Plants and Animals music, who are releasing their third album this year. I thoroughly enjoy their tune The End of That and the quirkiness of their lyrics. I’m curious about these fellows: interest piqued. Of course, I also look forward to Notre Dame De Grass. Not only because I have a musical crush on Joe Grass, but because these guys are a guaranteed good time.

As for Sunday’s line up, I most look forward to seeing Les Soeurs Boulay. These two sisters deliver songs that are simply sweetly charming. With a ukelele and a guitar, these two ladies are sure to steal my heart this June. The other act I can’t wait to see is Kevin Parent. Growing up in Saguenay Lac-St-Jean, Kevin Parent was a huge radio presence and I associate his songs with the idle and confusing summers of my childhood. My inner youth, who had never been to the big city nor the extensive technology of today, sees Parent as a superstar: someone who is made of legend and not of flesh. I am stoked (and also a tiny bit weirded out) by the possibility of seeing him perform live.

Come by the fest, let your soul sing a little.


Matt Large

Matt Large

“The term folk music is something that I think about a lot”, says Matt Large co-director of Hello Darlin’ Productions during our chat at Les Copains D’Abord where we talked about music, his projects, and the Montreal Folk Community.

“For me, the term Folk music can be best articulated as singer-songwriter music,” Matt explains. “After the Bob Dylan era and the post 60’s revolution, folk music really became identified in pop culture as a woman or a man with their guitar and it kind of had a granola overtone to it. So, I don’t want to fight the modern vernacular and if that’s the lexicon people want to employ then I’ll go with it and we can call that folk. To describe what I personally define as folk music I use the term Traditional music. Because traditional music is music that doesn’t have a beginning or an end, hasn’t come from one particular source but has evolved culturally like traditional Appalachian fiddle music.”

Montreal Folk FestivalAfter many years of working with bands and being a roadie to a death metal band in Toronto, Matt moved to Montreal for his studies at McGill. Matt and his partner Rebecca, who is also his partner at Hello Darlin’, encountered many talented singer-songwriters who lacked a viable outlet to showcase and expose their music in Montreal. Many artists that they encountered in the folk festival circuit seemed to be skipping Montreal. The two decided to try and fill, in earnest, this undefined underdeveloped space in the Montreal music scene and began working with acts like David Francey, now a good friend of Matt’s, and younger up and coming artists like Old Man Ludecke. They began by booking shows at Club Zone, (which became Club One and is now defunct), where they launched the Wintergreen Series back in 2003. Now, they are situated at Petit Campus which, Matt stresses, “Is an incredible supporter and sponsor”. Hello Darlin’ Productions trys to hold most of their shows at the same venue and every year their program continues to grow: “Our first year, we did one show. Our second year, we did six shows. Now we are probably doing around fifty shows.”

Five years ago, Matt and Rebecca’s work evolved into a Folk Festival. I had the pleasure of volunteering for the Folk Festival on the Canal last summer and found the experience amazing. This year the Fest is moving from the McAuslan grounds down to îlot Charlevoix- at the north-west corner of St-Patrick and Charlevoix street in the Arrondissement Sud-Ouest. The McAuslan Brewery will continue to be involved as partners and sponsors: “Peter McAuslan runs one of the best breweries in the province, and the country. He supports music like no other patron in this province.” Parks Canada has joined in as a big underwriter and supporter of the festival and the Arrondissement Sud-Ouest has come up with $25k to sponsor the event. The full programming for the Fest will be announced this week.

These days Matt is listening to the Stanley Brothers and Bruce Springsteen: “Springsteen was probably my biggest and first big pop-rock idol. I got introduced to his music through my cousin really early, at around eight or nine years old. I had all his records that had been put out on tape. I’m plowing through Darkness on the Edge of Town again and a bunch of the tracks that were unreleased from all those sessions. I think unbeknownst to me he has shaped my music writing style and now I’m kind of realizing that it had a subliminal effect on how I try to tell stories.”

Notre Dame de Grass
Left to right: Joe Grass, Josh Zubot, Andrew Horton, Matt Large, and Guy Donis.

Matt is the lead singer of Notre Dame de Grass and is co-organizer of the Barfly Sunday Night Bluegrass and Old Time Country Jam that has been taking place weekly for fourteen years. “For myself as a musician in Montreal, if I didn’t have this community I wouldn’t have been able to sustain this band” Matt underlines. He has seen lots of bands coalesce out of the Sunday jams and a lot of musical exchanges: “We push each other to learn more, play better. There are a number of jams all across town and a number of venues that support that kind of collaboration. In terms of the musician aspect of a folk community, without that interchange it’s impossible for us to create a community. We need each other to push and someone to bring in an old recording of a fiddle player that’s just been made available from the Alan Lomax Collection that some might know and some might not but this constant sharing and introduction to old sounds is very, very important.”

For Matt, who has been an integral force behind the Montreal Folk community, an ideal folk community comprises, “a multi-disciplinary artistic community that doesn’t necessarily just support folk music. An ideal community is something where people can afford to support one another’s public and/or private ventures.”

Photos courtesy of Matt Large

Cécile Doo-Kingué

Starting off the day was Cécile Doo-Kingué with her soothing voice and really impressive blues guitar skills. She had a full range of songs that went from the very political, to one about stealing food from her mom’s kitchen and getting an ass whooping. Cécile ended her show appropriately by using her behind as a bongo drum.

Joe Grass took the stage next with his band Notre Dame De Grass. The trio started with a slow soulful folk song called “We Waited” and continued with their own unique type of country. Joe Grass’ voice, reminiscent of Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, fit the songs beautifully. It was also really fun to watch how into the performance the drummer was, and then the fiddle player seemingly turning his fiddle into an electric guitar during solos.

Next were Grouyan Gumbo, singing in Acadian French and playing music that draws from traditional Cajun and folk. This group got the crowd a little more lively. The band consisted of a rhythm section, bass, accordion, and fiddle, and totally rocked out on their instruments. Not really my thing, but I could appreciate it for what it was.


The next band, Canailles, started their set off with a stompy-type gospel song, leading into some pure bluegrass/country. I could tell that this was the most energetic and fun act of the entire festival so far. The whole band sang along in unison with the lead female singer who had an amazing voice reminiscent of Wanda Jackson. Canailles somehow managed to sing their original French songs in American-style old country, and it totally worked. Loved the upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, but what I really appreciated (and had seen for the first time so far this whole festival) was the use of the wash board as an instrument.  The homemade shaker made out of an old Glenfiddich container also told you that these guys were a total DIY type of band. Canailles totally woke me up like a bucket of water dumped on your head on a hot day. By the end of the set, I was clapping like an idiot.

Next up was surprise act Stefanie Parnell. Parnell played two songs on her acoustic guitar and, to be honest,  didn’t  really fit in with the fun fiddle and banjo atmosphere created by the prior bands – especially when she had a friend join her on stage and rap along to her song. The girl had a lovely voice, but her performance seemed more like something you might get on the auditions for Canadian Idol. Maybe she should audition. She would definitely make the finals.

New York-based Anthony D’Amato was up next, and (though I know he’s probably sick of this…), immediately my mind went to compare him to Ryan Adams. D’Amato impressed me with his songs, one being a political song entitled “Holy War”  about being a disgruntled American, and another catchier tune, a tribute to Woody Guthrie, entitled “On the Banks of the River Where I Died”. My favourite song of the set had to be the last one, entitled “Hank Williams Tune”; a charming song with witty lyrics about falling for someone who digs all the same stuff as you.

Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few

Next were Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few, a four piece band consisting of keyboards, drums, bass, and cello. The band performed mostly songs off of their newest album, June In Siberia. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of words to describe Mark’s set, and the one word that keeps coming up is ‘powerful.’ He proved he had a vivid imagination with his song about a small community of Japanese cowboys, and he captivated the audience with his stage banter. The band surprised everyone with their acapella “Ye Bo Mama”, a traditional African Siswati song. To end the song, the drummer got up and played the cellist’s cello like a bongo drum, and I think the crowd went a little nuts.

Mark ended his performance with a powerful (there’s that word again) Bob Dylan-esque storytelling tune, when unexpectedly, a breaker went, and the speakers and monitors both blew out. Instead of stopping there at the last song and saying goodnight, Mark and his band put their instruments down, started clapping their hands and singing their hearts out, and urging the audience to sing with them lyrics quite fitting for the situation: “plant the flowers on the stones”. Mark Berube and his band received a well-deserved standing ovation for their performance. My hands were itchy from all the clapping, and my eyes were teary. It felt like coming out of an emotional and thought provoking movie at the theatre. To sum it up: Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few played with so much heart that they used up all the electricity. Amazing.

Sheesham and Lotus, three crazy old timey dudes in bowler hats and three-piece suits, were up next. These guys professed to the crowd that they were out to scientifically prove that old time music is better than it sounds. With a fiddle, banjo, sousaphone, and a homemade instrument made for singing into (that I’m assuming they created themselves) called a “sepiaphonic monophone”, they proved their point and then some. These guys were not just musicians but true performers, making us feel that we were back in the Twenties, watching a comedy act in a speakeasy. At the end of the performance, the audience clapped so much that the guys played two more songs. This festival just kept getting better and better.

The last performer of the night was David Francey along with his guitarist Mark Westberg. Francey, a former construction worker, was charming and humble, referring to his music career as “this job,” performing  several songs about his wife,  singing about his childhood as a paper boy, and about his former life as a construction worker. Introducing each song with a little story or anecdote, he had the crowd’s complete attention. Francey possesses a quality that is rarely found in artists today: the ability to write a simple song and well thought out, honest lyrics with no gimmicks or unnecessary bells and whistles. David Francey proved that he is both a prolific song writer and a master at storytelling.

David Francey – Wonder by AkidaMusic

Wow, I got all serious for a while there didn’t I? I guess when it comes to true talent, there’s no joking around. What I saw today surpassed my expectations for The Montreal Folk Festival. By the end of this night I was tired, sweaty, and felt like I had gotten hit by two buses full of awesome. I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, and I will be there next year with bells on.

See more photos by Owain Harris from the Montreal Folk Festival via our facebook page.

The Third day of Folk Fest took place on the St-Ambroise Terrace, a perfect intimate venue for such an event. The first act of the day I caught was Scott Normandy and supporting him, The Newark City Band. Scott and his band played a tight set executing some really laid back, bar scene alternative country. This set had some catchy tunes that the crowd seemed really into, and some really immaculate solos from his lead guitarist. Normandy chose to end his set with Tom Petty’s, Last Dance with Mary Jane. I found myself stuck trying to decide wither this was appropriate or cliché. I still can’t decide.

Following Normandy were The Wildwood Flowers. This five piece group consisted of a very quiet male guitarist and four lovely ladies that played the upright bass, mandolin, and another guitar. One of the things that made this performance perfect was the matching outfits worn by these talented ladies. Right off the bat, these girls described themselves as French-speaking people in love with old American country music, and woke the crowd up with their covers of classic country bluegrass songs, and old gospel such as Dolly Partons’ Jolene and popular bluegrass standard Keep On The Sunny Side. Despite the language barrier, these charming gals had quite the stage banter and kept the crowd hootin’, hollerin’ and asking for more. Lovely job!

The next band, Bourrasque Celtiques’, randomness made me wonder if they had all just met at a bus stop and decided to form a French hippie quasi-psychedelic folk group. These guys were definitely something. From the girl singer with the lovely voice, to the grey bearded old guy with long hair that was both obviously extremely excited that he had an excuse to dust off his old duds from back in the freaky days, and an amazing mandolin player, these guys kind of ruled. I wasn’t surprised to hear a pan flute, but I really appreciated the flashes of heaviness the guitarist laid upon the crowd. I will admit I was a little worried when they pulled out the bagpipes, but as a testament to this groups’ totally random approach, Bourrasque Celtique somehow made all this awkwardness work.

Ever since I read the Folk Festival program, I was curious about the next performer Emm Gryner. I couldn’t tell if Gryner was coming off as cold or nervous at first but later when she started to warm up, and exclaimed to the crowed that there was a flower in her whiskey, (and drank it anyway) I decided that it was nervousness. Looking very cute and like a little bit of a bad ass, Emm Gryner sat at her electric piano and poured her heart out. She admitted that in all of her repertoire she only had two happy songs, which she played. Switching from piano to guitar and back to piano, it was easy to tell this little lady had been doing this for years. Emm has in the past been nominated for a Juno, and joked to the crowd about her album that didn’t win the award calling it a “Juno Loser.” The highlights of Gryners’ performance were a Kate and Anna Mcgarrigle cover titled Tell My Sister, and an amazing , totally unexpected slowed down piano rendition of Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me.

Following Gryner was songstress Rose Cousins. Rose had the audience in the palm of her hand with her beautiful voice (a little Martha Wainwright-ish), songs about heartbreak, being in love, and the loss of her grandmother. Cousins was a joker too, which is always a sign of an excellent performer. Playing for absolutely everyone on the terrace, Rose had a dog and some birds singing along with her at one point. Such a wonderful lady, I felt like asking for her autograph and then asking her to come to my house for dinner.

So I will admit that I didn’t know too much about the next act, Fred Eaglesmith, but by the time he and his band of gypsies were done playing, I felt pretty dumb for not knowing who they were. When Fred stepped onstage wearing a black top hat and a black silver button lined ringmaster jacket, I knew this would be a spectacle. To start off the show Fred joked to the audience (I think) that his band was not high on drugs but quite low on drugs. Eaglesmith had a varied repertoire of tunes, including songs about praying, trucks, and songs about posers who only like Johnny Cash because it’s the cool thing to do. Fred’s band consisted of a dude in a hat playing guitar, and four hot chicks in amazing outfits, playing the flute, accordion and drums. It was seriously hard not to stare in awe at these folks, and they didn’t just look amazing, but had the talent to back it up. Fred was funny, engaging, and seemed like a bit of a hard ticket which I always appreciate.

Tricots Machine took the stage next, starting out with slow sleepy songs that turned into anthemic sleepy folk/pop. This four piece group performed using a melodica, xylophone, and two keyboards. These people were painfully cute and really interacted with the crowd, getting them to sing along with their adorable songs.

Tricot Machine – Pas fait en chocolat by ribon

This concluded day three of Folk Fest, and it seemed like either all of these bands were slowly growing on me, or the festival was getting progressively better each day. Maybe it was a little bit of both.

Now I’m not completely sure, but during day four of Folk Fest, I might have had a religious experience or two. Let me tell you about it in part two.

Owain Harris’s Montreal Folk Festival photos  via our facebook page.

I love folk music, but honestly I was kind of nervous about covering the Montreal Folk Festival. Love me some Bobby Dylan, Woody Guthrie, or some Weavers. Folk music can be the most honest, and heartfelt of any of the genres. I just didn’t know what to expect at a modern day folk festival. Nu folk? Is that what you call it? Turns out, it was just like any other festival. I had pleasant surprises and found myself cheering for talent I had never heard before, but sometimes I was just bored.

Opening the festival was Francophone duo Osmosaic. I felt for these folks because when they started the crowd was less than sparse, but musically this group left a boring taste in my mouth. Osmosaic’s songs were obviously very carefully crafted and both vocalists were great guitarists, and spot on in the harmonies department, but something about the music was just a little bit “Sharon, Lois and Bram” without the “Sharon”.

Next act up was rockabilly dudes The Hellbound Hepcats. I had never seen these guys but heard really great things about them, and definitely wasn’t disappointed. These skilled musicians did what any good band should do: they played a few great covers, had some awesome originals, did some rockin’ solo’s, and got the crowd (who increased in numbers during their set) to get up and cut a rug. The Hepcat’s charming singer even jumped off stage to dance with a few ladies and the Parks Canada mascot, a giant beaver, named Parka.

The Hepcats were a hard act to follow, but The Jimmyriggers tried. These guys made their first mistake by playing way too loud for a folk fest. Not to sound like a cranky old lady, but turn it down Jimmyriggers! I really tried to like these guys and the Blue Rodeo-ish vibe they were going for, but the hooks weren’t catchy enough and the atmosphere was kind of dead. If all of The Jimmyriggers songs had the same vibe as their last song, a powerful country/folk ballad titled, I stand In The Weeds I would have clapped more, smiled more and maybe even waved a lighter in the air.

And now to the pleasant surprise: a two part folk jam session. The first part was led by blues guitarist Rob Lutes, then gradually built up to five musicians. Lutes’ raspy voice and engagement with the crowd reminded me that I was at a folk festival. These musicians’ bluegrass and jazz guitar performances had more heart and soul than any of the acts so far at the festival. A cover of Bob Dylan’s, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright was the perfect ending to this set.

The second part of the folk jam, led by cowboy hat wearin’ guitarist Matt Large was just as good if not better. Consisting of six guitarists, a lapsteel, and a harmonica, these guys embodied the spirit of folk. With a twangy old-school country and southern gospel vibe, this group could have easily been on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. The highlight of this performance was Bobby Dove, an adorable spunky chick with a killer voice (and an awesome jean vest). Bobby Dove held her own with the best of them when she belted out a heart-wrenching rendition of Hank Williams’, Long Gone Lonesome Blues. Ending with Wagon Wheel, another song penned by one of the fathers of folk, Bob Dylan, these folk jams were the most authentic performances of the entire day.

The next act, The Montreal Sacred Harp Pleasure Society (ha!), might be the hardest to describe. This group, having never used microphones before faced a pretty daunting challenge. Performing in a little known style called “Harp” music, a traditional choral music hailing from the Southern region of the U.S., these guys were unexpected and different. The choir leader amused the crowd by introducing each song and explaining what it was about. Unfortunately the group performed in a circle, causing half of the members to have their back to the audience making it a hard performance to watch. I think one of the girls was out of tune the entire time but this music had me intrigued so I didn’t really care.

The Edinburgh Choir followed next. These kids (literally, kids) have sung a national anthem at a Montreal Juniors game and toured Quebec City, so they were totally pro! The choir sang a bunch of cute songs with all kinds of actions to go along with them and had everyone in the crowd saying “Awwww!”

Closing the day was Belzebuth, a traditional Quebecois folk band complete with mandolin, bodhan (Irish hand drum), a violin and an accordion. Belzebuth had the entire crowd including the Edinburgh Choir on the dance floor. These guys knew how to play a crowd, created an awesome atmosphere and were the perfect ending for the day.

All in all, Friday’s performances were a pretty good time, listening to some old-school folk and watching some new musicians that I would otherwise never have heard. By the end of the day, the Montreal Folk Festival crowd consisted of people from all walks of life, and everyone seemed as pleased as punch. I know that sounds pretty cheesy but it’s the truth, I swear!

See more photos by Owain Harris from the Montreal Folk Festival via our facebook page.